Chicago United Airlines ground workers approved a labor agreement early Saturday that settles the carrier's last unresolved contract and clears the way for talks on companywide wage concessions.
The pact calls for pay raises totaling 29 percent in a four-year period for United's 25,000 ramp workers, ticket and reservations agents, security guards and food-service employees. Union leaders had unanimously recommended ratification.
The contract gives the ground workers their first raises since 1994.
United's pilots, mechanics and aircraft cleaners already have received hefty raises during a turbulent two-year period for the airline. But the carrier wants them to give some back to help it cut costs and pull out of the worst financial troubles in its history.
"With this vote, United Airlines takes another major step forward in its quest for recovery," chief executive officer Jack Creighton said in a statement. "Only through the cooperative efforts of all of us at United can we return to our rightful place as the leader in the airline industry."
Randy Canale, president of Local 141 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said he was pleased with the vote.
"These IAM members can now move beyond the years of sacrifice that marked their employment at United during the past 8 years," he said. "Many employees took substantial pay cuts in 1994 to protect their jobs and prevent a breakup of the airline proposed by previous management."
Creighton has been involved in talks with union leaders to implement a financial recovery program, which may include temporary pay cuts. He is expected to convene more talks soon.
Creighton scored a key breakthrough last month when the powerful pilots' union agreed to work with the airline to develop a recovery program.